They came on foot and on scooter, on bike and with their parents, siblings and sometimes even dogs in tow.
They were the students of Orchard Park Elementary School in Fort Mill and they were celebrating International Walk to School Day on Wednesday morning.
International Walk to School Day got its start in 1997. Last year, the organization had more than 4,200 registered walking events across the country on Oct. 9. This year, in South Carolina, there were 277 registered events.
Many of the students at Orchard Park live within walking distance of the school and on a normal day, 240 of 870 students walk. A parent volunteer who helped organize Wednesday’s event said close to 500 students probably walked or rode their bikes or scooters to school.
“The parents here really make an effort to participate,” said Suzanne Hanson, whose kids are in first and third grade.
David McGinnis and Joshua McCabe, both in the fifth grade, help out as crossing guards. On a normal day, David said he doesn’t usually see as many of his friends as he did today.
“They were pouring in,” he said.
Some of the day’s walkers come to school by foot every day. Libby Martel and her daughter, who is in the fourth grade, walk more than a mile to school each morning.
“I think she feels better in the morning because we walk,” Martel said.
Several other parents said the morning walks got their kids’ energy up before the school day.
“It’s important to get them moving every day,” said Noel Allen, who has a fourth grader at Orchard Park.
While many of Orchard Park’s students live in Baxter Village, which surrounds the school, some do not, including Jennifer Miserendino’s family, who live a neighborhood over. There’s no sidewalk between the two neighborhoods, she said, so they usually drive to school.
“We would walk every day if there were a sidewalk,” she said. “I enjoy running, so it shares my love of exercise with the kids.”
But there are many area schools that have bigger problems than just the lack of a sidewalk. At Castle Heights Middle School in Rock Hill, woods and private property surround most of the school and Firetower Road has no sidewalk or even a shoulder on which students can walk.
Since walking to Castle Heights simply isn’t safe, assistant principal Carie Hucks and a group of students involved in community service called “The Foot Patrol” decided to organize a way to celebrate Walk to School Day a little differently.
During lunch, instead of just sitting around at tables, as soon as students were done, they were allowed to go outside and walk or run around the school’s track.
“It was fun,” said sixth-grader Scout Wallace.
His car ride to school takes about seven minutes, and he would walk if it were safer.
“I always like walking and getting my exercise and enjoying maybe a chilly, but a beautiful day at the same time,” said student Jessie Strickland, who did a lap while chatting with her friends.
If they walked around the track at least once, every student got a temporary tattoo of a knight, Castle Heights’ mascot. By the end of the lunch periods, it seemed as if nearly every student in the school had one.
The day is all about promoting healthy living and environmental friendliness, said Hucks, and even though students at Castle Heights can’t walk to school, they still wanted to do their part.
The Walk to School Day website showed official registered walking events at 15 schools in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Lancaster and Clover.
Rachel Southmayd • 803-329-4072